Seven Important Post-1900 Jewish Novels

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“What a fate: to be condemned to work for a firm where the slightest negligence at once gave rise to the gravest suspicion! Were all the employees nothing but a bunch of scoundrels, was there not among them one single loyal devoted man who, had he wasted only an hour or so of the firm’s time in the morning, was so tormented by conscience as to be driven out of his mind and actually incapable of leaving his bed?”
~ Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis

  1. The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka

One of Kafka’s best-known works, The Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect and subsequently struggling to adjust to this new condition. The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered.

  1. In Search of Lost Time (1913) by Marcel Proust

It is considered to be his most prominent work, known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the “episode of the madeleine.” It gained fame in English in translations by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin as “Remembrance of Things Past”, but the title In Search of Lost Time, a literal rendering of the French, has gained usage since D. J. Enright adopted it for his revised translation published in 1992.

  1. Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth

The novel tells the humorous monologue of “a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor,” who confesses to his psychoanalyst in “intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language.”Many of its characteristics (such as comedic prose, themes of sexual desire and sexual frustration, and a self-conscious literariness) went on to become Roth trademarks.

  1. Death of a Salesman (1949) by Arthur Miller

It won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. The play premiered on Broadway in February 1949, running for 742 performances, and has been revived on Broadway four times,winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. It is widely considered to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

  1. The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger

A classic novel originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage angstand alienation. It has been translated into almost all of the world’s major languages. Around 1 million copies are sold each year, with total sales of more than 65 million books. The novel’s protagonist Holden Caulfield has become an icon for teenage rebellion. The novel also deals with complex issues of innocence, identity, belonging, loss, and connection.

  1. The Trial (1925) by Franz Kafka

One of his best-known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader.

  1. Herzog (1964) by Saul Bellow

Herzog is set in 1964 in the United States, and is about the midlife crisis of a Jewish man named Moses E. Herzog. At the age of forty-seven, he is just emerging from his second divorce, this one particularly acrimonious. He has two children, one by each wife, who are growing up without him. His career as a writer and an academic has floundered. He is in a relationship with a vibrant woman, Ramona, but finds himself running away from commitment.

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